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August 18, 2011

The Upheaval of Technology a.k.a. Happy Birthday PC!

by sfdesigner

Recently the original IBM PC celebrated it’s 30th birthday. It’s hard to believe that the PC has been around that long, but at the time it signaled a huge shift to the way we looked at technology and how it was able to enrich our lives. While relatively scarce in the home, it was only a matter of time that the “personal” side of PC would push its way into our homes.

I remember our first PC. It was an 8088-based IBM, complete with CGA graphics. I was not allowed to touch it, but it amazed me nonetheless. Later, when the PC clones started to come out, we had another one, made by Sperry that was in our home office. I was on it non-stop. My step-dad gave me a book on how to program using BASIC and had an amazing time making mini-games and “utilities” (what would I know about utility apps at that age?!) I even created a bridge simulator for the U.S.S. Enterprise in BASIC using the “amazing” 4-color CGA graphics capabilities with the 320×240 resolution. Epic.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the PC represented a huge shift in computing. To me, it was new, it was something that I was able to pick up immediately without years of pre-existing knowledge and workflow. Jump to today. The market is shifting from traditional PCs to tablets, and while I am excited about the change, I am now the one with the years of pre-existing knowledge and workflow. New languages, new platforms, and a corporate landscape that is changing faster than I can think.

Within two weeks, Google announced it’s acquisition of Motorola Mobility; HP announced they were getting out of the Palm-acquired hardware business (two weeks after I bought a TouchPad–Grr!); and countless patent disputes based on the war chests of giant companies in the industry.

Remember Sperry, the maker of my first PC? Formerly known as Sperry-Univac, then merging with Burroughs to form Unisys? No–I didn’t think so, because they were a casualty of the last technology upheaval, and that is happening in front of us right now, and damn it is scary. Analysists, pundits, bloggers, journalists all say that platform A will win, or B, or even C–all seemingly creating an even larger dust cloud of confusion and misdirection for designers and developers.

Over time things will settle down, and ecosystems, platforms, technologies and corporate politics will normalize in a while. Personally, I feel that in order for me to have a healthy relationship with the industry, I need to keep at some arms length to the dust cloud. I have my likes and preferences, but I refuse to refer to something that is “different” as “crap” and I wish others would do the same thing.

For example–I love my Windows Phone (a Samsung Focus to be specific). Do I hate Android or iOS? Of course not. I respect that they are different, each one with appeal to me in different ways. For example I love the geeky-ness of Android and how customizable it is and easy to develop for. For iOS the simplicity of the platform has been very appealing as well. Again–not “crap”, but different.

The same thing could have been said about the various platforms back in 1981.

CP/M or DOS? Crap or just different?

BASIC or FORTAN? Crap or just different?

I am excited about the upheaval that is happening today, but I also realize that we have been through this before–and we will go through it again at a point further in the future.

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